As has become the norm this season, the Southeastern Conference is a hodgepodge, with two remarkably even teams atop the league and a placeholder separating them both from a vast swath of indistinguishable mediocrity resting upon a soft base centered in Nashville. Here is how the SEC lines up this week:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (10-0): ‘Bama is bashing inferior opponents into submission the way championship teams are supposed to do. Also, Nick Saban has registered consecutive ten-win seasons for the first time in his college coaching career, which counts for something.
2. Florida Gators (10-0): It’s been weeks since the Sunshine State Saurians have looked like the team we all expected them to be . . . which gives me the scary suspicion that Urban Meyer’s outfit is just biding its time waiting for its breakout game.
3. LSU Tigers (8-2): Senator Blutarsky is right . . . the Bayou Bengals are in third place by default, receiving such a lofty spot solely because they are decent in a year in which most of the SEC is mediocre. Louisiana State isn’t great, and may not even be particularly good.
4. Mississippi Rebels (7-3): Here begins the great muddled middle, wherein the gap separating the fourth-place team from the tenth-place team is negligible on any given Saturday (or on any given Thursday, such as the one on which my tenth-ranked team beat my fourth-ranked team). Ole Miss looked good last weekend, but where has that been all fall?
5. Georgia Bulldogs (6-4): I’m not at all happy about placing the Red and Black this high, but it’s hard to downgrade a team that emerges victorious from the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry after playing with the double disadvantage of being favored and playing at home.
6. Auburn Tigers (7-4): Don’t judge the Plainsmen too harshly for falling in Sanford Stadium last Saturday night after building up a 14-0 lead. Strange things happen in rivalries as storied as this one and even Auburn’s likely loss in the Iron Bowl does not change the fact that Gene Chizik’s first season has been a success by any reasonable measure.
7. Arkansas Razorbacks (6-4): Were it not for the fact that they play in the same division as Ole Miss, the Hogs would be the league’s most schizophrenic squad. This team switches modes more often than its head coach changes jobs.
8. Kentucky Wildcats (6-4): Though thinned by injuries, Rich Brooks’s ‘Cats once again have scraped together enough wins to make it into postseason play. That’s not as much of an achievement as it sounds like, but it’s more of an achievement than you think it is.
9. Tennessee Volunteers (5-5): It was all aboard the Lane Train for a while there until an incident at a gas station inspiring the use of the word "allegedly" in copious quantities and a run-in with the Rebels derailed the Big Orange. Given Tennessee’s remaining schedule, though, the Vols almost certainly are looking at bowl eligibility, and they quite possibly are bound for a January 1 berth.
10. South Carolina Gamecocks (6-5): The Palmetto State could field a championship team by consolidating the state’s two Division I-A schools, letting the Gamecocks play the first half of the schedule, and letting the Clemson Tigers play the second half of the schedule. Until that happens, though, South Carolina---the team, not the state---seems destined to be a one-hit wonder that charts for six weeks before sinking from sight altogether.
11. Mississippi St. Bulldogs (4-6): Unfortunately for Dan Mullen, "better" is not synonymous with "good enough to post a winning record," although .500 marks, both overall and in conference play, remain within reach.
12. Vanderbilt Commodores (2-9): The Music City Sailors languish at the bottom of the conference standings with an 0-7 ledger in league play. Last year’s bowl game looks less like a peak and more like a fluke.
My votes already have been cast, so it’s too late to make any changes, but feel free to offer your comments below.